Life can get crazy at times. In fact, for many people their lives feel more like a ball bouncing around in a pinball machine. Such is the testimony of one young woman whose story I recently heard.
As a small child her father moved out of the home and out of her life. Her mother attempted to self-medicate her problems while leaving the children to fend for themselves. Long periods without food, clean clothes, and supervision eventually led to foster care for the little girl. Unfortunately foster homes provided little solace and stability. There she experienced further rejection and pain. Her life unfolded from one tragedy to another.
The world this young woman grew up in appears to be something much different than the one portrayed in Proverbs 8. But it is not. Proverbs 8 affirms the fundamental proposition of the first chapter in the Bible: God purposefully designed his universe. God made things to work in a certain way. As they say, “If you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.” At the very beginning of it all God intentionally formed his world with all its moving parts and intricate interconnections.
In Proverbs 8 wisdom is personified as a woman seeking to share what she knows. She understands God’s plan for his world for she has been part of it from the beginning. To know her is to know how God put the pieces together. This is wisdom in the Bible. It is knowing how to live in harmony with God’s design for human life, doing the right thing at the right time in the right circumstance.
In so doing, life goes much better. It aligns with the rhythms and patterns implanted in the DNA of creation. Thus, Lady Wisdom says, “Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD” (v 35). They experience the goodness that a good God originally imagined for his creation. “Happy is the one who listens to me,” she says (v 34).
Those who look for it can readily gain wisdom. It takes some diligence, “watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors” (v 34). But Lady Wisdom freely shares knowledge with those who seek her out. She can be found right there in the midst of everyday life. She moves among the people of her village calling out in the public squares. She goes to those places people of ancient times visited daily and makes herself known. She can be found “on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads … beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals” (vv 1-4). “The heights” seems to refer the religious center, since the highest point of a city was typically reserved for a temple. “The gates in front of the town” served as a market area as well as a court for settling disputes. So wisdom is not obscure secrets about life. It is not reserved only for the initiated, intellectual or privileged. Wisdom is for everyone.
According to Lady Wisdom, “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago” (v 22). The point of these words is to affirm that we do not live in a random universe. God did not create by accident. He intentionally shaped “a formless void and darkness” into something functional and good according to Genesis 1. God purposefully distinguished light from darkness, earth from sky, waters from dry ground, flora from fauna, humans from other creatures, and male from female. Proverbs 8 corroborates the story of creation in Genesis 1. The LORD “assigned to the sea its limit” and “marked out the foundations of the earth” according to plan (v 29). All of creation exists and functions as it does because God determined it to be so.
The contrast to Babylonian perception of the world could not be greater. Babylonian mythology imagined creation as a chaotic war among gods with little purpose except to settle power struggles. Further, Babylonians thought that the current chaos they observed in their world resulted from continued instability among the gods. The various deities remained in constant conflict with each other and only determined the destiny of the world each year at an annual meeting in which one god or another struggled to prevail. Thus life for humans continued to be in constant flux. The whims of the gods kept life unpredictable.
For too many in our modern world the Babylonian conception of life dominates. The effects of sin upon us leave the impression that life is random. Terrorism, disease, natural disasters, and abuse simply do not make sense. Suffering of the vulnerable and innocent defies all explanation. It all feels so haphazard and pointless. We wonder if there really is purpose to life, if there really are patterns to follow, if goodness really is rewarded, if evil has its limits.
Proverbs proclaims that life does have predictable patterns. God stitched it into the fabric of creation from the beginning. Human choice matters. God does reward those who diligently seek him. Likewise, those who ignore God’s wisdom reap the consequences of functioning outside of his original designs. “Those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death” (v 36). Unfortunately “injure” and “death” also fall on those who do not deserve it because God designed us to live in community. The effects of poor choices spill over into the lives of others, even innocent bystanders like the young women mentioned at the beginning of these comments.
Proverbs 8 provides a strong reminder then that our world operates according to a divine design. Whether we fully understand it or like it, life unfolds within this framework. And in times of greatest turmoil and confusion, we can hold onto the hope that order remains. God implanted it into his creation from the very beginning. So “whoever finds” God’s wisdom “finds life” (v 35). Even Job found this to be true.